Bill advances to raise Kentucky’s felony theft threshold
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill to raise the minimum dollar amount required in Kentucky for the crime of felony theft cleared its first hurdle Wednesday with approval from the House Judiciary Committee.
The measure would increase the minimum threshold for felony theft to $1,000 from the current $500. The result would be that property thefts under $1,000 would be considered a misdemeanor, which carries a lesser penalty.
Under the bill, offenders would still be subject to a felony for committing three theft offenses of property valued between $500 and $1,000 within a five-year period. The felony threshold for several types of fraud — now as low as $100 — also would increase to $1,000 under the measure.
It’s one of several bills offered in recent years to revise the state’s criminal justice laws.
Supporters tout the higher felony theft threshold as a way to reduce prison populations and thus corrections costs for the state. They say the threshold hasn’t kept pace with inflation.
“No one should steal anything that’s for a dollar and 50 cents. But five years in prison for stealing something that’s $500 seems to me to be excessive,” Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said.
Nemes said his only objection with the measure was that it doesn’t raise the minimum threshold even higher, suggesting that it should be set at $2,000 or $2,500.
“It’s a good step in the right direction, but it’s not a big enough step,” he said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman C. Ed Massey, the bill’s lead sponsor, stressed that offenders would still face consequences for thefts below the $1,000 felony threshold.
“This does not mean that somebody gets any kind of a free pass,” the GOP lawmaker said. “There’s still accountability under the law. You can still serve up to a year in jail for a misdemeanor.”
Similar legislation made considerable headway in 2020 but fell short of winning final passage because of Kentucky’s COVID-19-shortened legislative session.
Republican Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher voted against the bill Wednesday, saying he’s “about done with criminal justice reform.” Bratcher said neighborhoods in his Louisville district are suffering from “an explosion of petty theft.”
Another committee member, GOP Rep. John Blanton, cautioned against setting criminal justice policies that create “more victims in the attempt to save money.”
“People are incarcerated because they’ve committed crimes,” he said.
Blanton ended up abstaining during the committee vote. The measure now heads to the full House.
The legislation is House Bill 126.